NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Awww! Cosmic baby pictures!

Infant Stars Peek Out from Dusty Cradles
Protostars in Messier 78, as seen by multiple observatories
Credit: NASA/ESA/ESO/JPL-Caltech/Max-Planck

The side-by-side images above depict protostars found in Messier 78, a reflection nebula found within the constellation Orion (but not the Orion Nebula, which is Messier 42). These are some of the youngest stars that astronomers have ever seen – some of them are still embedded deeply in a gaseous envelope, which would suggest that they’re under 25,000 years old. That may seem like a long time compared to our human lives… but for stars that can live for millions or billions of years, it’s still stellar infancy. These images accompanied this press release from the Herschel space observatory, and represent observations from Herschel as well as ground-based telescopes. Though they can be difficult to detect, researchers are hoping to document more young stars in various stages of life – from before birth through infancy – to learn more about the early development of stars.

NASA often looks at “young” astronomical objects, to learn more about the formation and evolution of the Universe. Here’s a selection of some beautiful and interesting cosmic baby pictures…

Pillars of Creation
Gas pillars in the Eagle Nebula, as seen by Hubble
Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

This is one of Hubble’s most famous images, often called the “Pillars of Creation.” This image was captured by Hubble nearly 18 years ago, and it shows a portion of the Eagle Nebula, where stars are in various stages of formation and development within columns of cool interstellar hydrogen gas and dust. Inside these pillars are Evaporating Gaseous Globules, or EGGs, small globules of even denser gas that house embryonic stars. Eventually, stars emerge from their EGGs and the EGGs photoevaporate away.

Tiny, young galaxies brimming with star formation
Tiny, young galaxies brimming with star formation
Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI)

These images represent a sample of observations from the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS), which used Hubble’s detectors to look for young dwarf galaxies. These dwarf galaxies, which are the most common type of galaxy in the Universe, are much smaller than our own Milky Way galaxy (about a hundred times smaller, on average). They produce stars at a furious rate, and can double their population a thousand times faster than our galaxy can. These galaxies formed about 9 billion years ago, but they’re so far away that we’re seeing them in their early years. Astronomers hope that understanding these galaxies will help us better understand the formation of the Universe’s earliest stars and galaxies.

An all-sky picture of the infant universe
Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team

This final image isn’t a baby picture of an astronomical objects – it’s a baby picture of our Universe as a whole! This image was created from nine years of data collected by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), which observed microwave radiation released approximately 375,000 years after the birth of the Universe. The image looks back 13.77 billion years and reveals temperature fluctuations (shown as color differences) that correspond to the seeds that grew to become the galaxies. From these fluctuations, astronomers significantly expanded their understanding of the formation and fundamental structure of the Universe.

Comments are closed.

NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration